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New books, used cars:  Halifax County schools prep for opening year

South Boston News
The signs around Halifax County Middle School tell the story: schools open this morning, marking the first day of the 2013-2014 school year. Motorists should drive with extra caution as students will be out early this morning waiting for their buses to transport them to school. / August 19, 2013

In preparation for the new school year that opens today, the Halifax County School Board agreed Thursday to spend $85,210 on new textbooks to replace copies that in some cases were up to nine years old.

The action came during a meeting to discuss school energy costs, shore up the transportation fleet and review instructional programs.

Among the highlights,

the School Board authorized the purchase of new textbooks, at a cost $85,209.71, to provide updated texts for fifth grade science students, and for high school students taking algebra, foreign language and economics. However, the order includes only enough copies to use in the classroom. Students will not be allowed to carry the textbooks home.

Fifth grade science textbooks that are being replaced had been used for the past nine years and were in very poor condition, say school officials.

The trustees approved the purchase of four used cars from the Town of Halifax at a total cost of $7,000, plus $1,000 to buy a radar gun from the town. The cars, which have between 116,000 to 151,000 miles on them, will be used to transport special education students. The used cars from Halifax will replace even older vehicles, one which has nearly 400,000 miles. The radar gun will be used to test the speeds of school buses.

Trustees spent the bulk of the meeting listening to Maintenance Director Larry Roller talk about school energy costs and the potential for savings. In particular, Roller discussed a recent presentation by the Cenergistic Company, which says it can save the school division up to 30 percent on its energy costs.

Although the board did not act on the Cenergistic proposal, members did suggest several in-house proposals for reducing electricity costs, including consultation with principals and teachers and offering incentives to encourage greater energy efficiency at county schools.

The issue had first surfaced during the School Board’s July meeting when Roller first reported on the Cenergistic proposal. The company suggested a four-year contract calling for payment of $122,000 in the first year and promising net annual savings of $94,000, after taking into account the cost of the contract.

Roller told trustees there are number of companies out there that offer similar services, but all have one thing in common — the requirement that an energy manager be hired.

Roller said Halifax County already has a good record of energy management, ranking in the 87th percentile of schools across the country, meaning Halifax is better than 87 percent of all school divisions.

“We’ve reached a plateau,” Roller said, “but I want the school system to get maximum savings. We need manpower in the buildings to work with principals and their staffs.” Saying that energy consumption had reached $34 per hour in unoccupied areas, Roller stressed the need for great oversight.

ED#8 trustee Walter Potts suggested that energy efficiency could be turned into a project involving students who would also be offered incentives to save. Board members said they will work on the issue and bring back some ideas at future meetings.

Trustees also heard from Director of Testing Nancy Zirkle, who reported that Halifax has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education to spend $25,000 on a pilot program to provide individual tutoring on math. The program offers an interactive environment in which a student and live tutor can use on-line applications such as chat, instant messaging and virtual whiteboard to enhance the student’s performance.

Last spring from mid-March to mid-May, 66 students participated in one-on-one online tutoring, working on SOLs as prescribed by their teachers. Their overall scores reached 73.7 percent and students rated the training as the “best time ever learning” and the “best tutor ever.”

Board chairman Kim Farson thanked several agencies and individuals for their generosity in providing back-to-school materials for students, many of which were given out during the recent National Night Out event.

She also thanked the Halifax County Board of Supervisors for their cooperation in carrying out the new design for the podium in the second floor meeting room and for paying for the materials. She also offered thanks to high school teacher Warren Penick and his two students, Justin Penick and Jacob Talley, for their work in completing the job. Farson noted the new design has proven to be very popular with both school trustees and county supervisors.

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I am a parent of school age kids. The buses go to slow as it is., they make too many stops. On old 360 there are several areas where kids could walk to a common stop and save time. A pay plan? whatever happened to the step plan the county had back in the 90's. Thats right, we gave that up to pay the central office staff a lot of money.

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